Assessing the causal structure of function

Sergio E. Chaigneau, Steven A. Sloman, Lawrence W. Barsalou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Theories typically emphasize affordances or intentions as the primary determinant of an object's perceived function. The HIPE theory assumes that people integrate both into causal models that produce functional attributions. In these models, an object's physical structure and an agent's action specify an affordance jointly, constituting the immediate causes of a perceived function. The object's design history and an agent's goal in using it constitute distant causes. When specified fully, the immediate causes are sufficient for determining the perceived function - distant causes have no effect (the causal proximity principle). When the immediate causes are ambiguous or unknown, distant causes produce inferences about the immediate causes, thereby affecting functional attributions indirectly (the causal updating principle). Seven experiments supported HIPE's predictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-625
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004


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